For the U.S. Women’s Open Cinderella, it’s all about confidence

Wichanee Meechai watches a shot during the U.S. Women's Open.

Wichanee Meechai doesn't think she's confident. She's leading the U.S. Open anyway.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF

LANCASTER, Pa. — Saturday could have gone very differently for Wichanee Meechai.

Such is golf. Miss a putt here, get a bad bounce there. Anyone who has played knows how quickly bad luck can turn an 89 into a 94, a 79 into an 84, a 69 into a 74.

The latter is what could have happened to Meechai; perhaps it was even expected. She nearly admitted as much. The 31-year-old pro from Thailand is in the midst of her ninth LPGA season but still might not have been a name even some avid women’s golf fans were familiar with before this week. She’d never finished better than T5 on the LPGA Tour and hadn’t won anywhere in the world since 2015.

If Meechai had faded from contention Saturday, falling victim to a brutal Lancaster Country Club setup she torched the first two days with rounds of 69 and 67 to take the lead, no one would have batted an eye.

But instead, she battled, shot 69, and she’ll enter the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open tied for the lead (five under) with Minjee Lee and Andrea Lee.

It wasn’t pretty at times — there were many one-handed finishes and long looks for par — but by making five par putts from outside four feet, she quite literally turned 74 into a one-under 69.

If that sounds like a confident player, that’s not Wichanee Meechai, at least according to Wichanee Meechai.

“I’m the person who has no confidence at all,” she said in a very candid press conference Friday afternoon. “I never think that I’m good enough. I never think that I can win tournaments on the LPGA, but … if I can stay in my place and I just keep working hard as I can … I think it’s going to show up one day.”

Clearly, the hard work has shown up at Lancaster. Meechai and Minjee Lee are the only two golfers to break 70 every day this week. But even after posting the 69 that gave her a share of the lead heading into Sunday at a major, she doubled down on her supposed lack of confidence.

“To be honest, yesterday I thought about missing the cut because I used to be in this position,” Meechai said. “Like the first day I play pretty good, and then the second day I just [shoot] like 80s and missed the cut by one. I cried a lot. I never think that I’m going to be on the leaderboard or something like that. But it’s great.”

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Yet on Saturday a confident and resilient player plodded her way around Lancaster Country Club.

She birdied the first hole — drilling a putt from 22 feet with perfect speed — and after five straight pars she two-putted the par-5 7th to get to six under for the tournament.

On the back nine, it could have gotten away from her. It almost did. She hit it long on the 10th green and made bogey. She did the same on the difficult par-3 12th, then left her second shot from just off the green 10 feet short above the hole.

As her playing partner, Andrea Lee, stroked her birdie putt, Meechai stood in the center of the green and looked on, away from the hole, away from the water guarding the green, away from the hundreds of fans who had flocked to follow the final pairing on a U.S. Open moving day.

She was alone.

Wichanee Meechai took a breath on the 12th hole. Jack Hirsh/GOLF

In that time, she found her focus.

“I just feel like, okay, it’s going to be very downhill, and you just give the break and putt it,” Meechai said. “Just focus on it, and I made it.”

Her focus — and that putt dropping — ended up being exactly what propelled her to play her last six holes in even par and secure her place atop the leaderboard.

“I think my focus on the game was pretty good today,” she said. “I hit a lot of bad shots, but, you know, like I don’t have any bad thoughts about my swing or about the result at all. I’m just staying in my zone and trying to keep going and then be patient.”

Her patience was tested all day Saturday, especially when her group was put on the clock after the 12th hole, but she responded each time she had to.

She drove it in jail on 4 and 16, but came back with magical recovery shots both times. That took confidence.

She ran off to the 13th tee when her group was put on the clock. She looked confident.

She responded to a bogey on 14 by lacing a tee shot and throwing a dart for an approach at 15 for a birdie. It was a confident stroke.

Meechai may not think she’s confident, but it’s hard to lead the U.S. Open if you’re not. Should she become the first qualifier since Birdie Kim in 2005 to win the U.S. Women’s Open, she might not lack confidence much longer.

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